Achilles Heel

The 360 is a fine console with excellent games, great online community and a fine multi-media machine. However it’s failure rate is atrocious yet Microsoft have always denied there is a big issue with returns. Now comes news that the UK repairs team is receiving 1500 – 2500 per day according to this article published on 360 Gamer.

1500-2500 per day in the UK alone

That sounds really high but tie’s up with my own findings. I game regularly with a group of guys and almost all of them have had at least one 360 fail. Two of the group are onto their 5th 360. That’s five machines in less than 20 months. If it happened to one guy only you would put it down to bad luck but not two. I’ve also had mine fail, Shakeel’s has just gone, Graham’s on his third and as already said most of the guys have had theirs fail two. If it’s not the red ring of light it’s scratched disks, which is definitely caused by the 360 as the guys that I know it’s happened too haven’t even removed the disk from the machine for two weeks. It started to fail and on inspecting the disk concentric scratches were clearly visible.

These problems have now transferred to the 360 Elite which was Microsoft’s chance to address the issues which look to have been sadly missed. A couple of folk I know are now thinking it’s time to ditch the 360 and move to PS3 despite that platforms lack of current games – at least it seems more reliable. Time to come clean Microsoft. Early adopters deserve better than this. Consumers deserve better than this. You no longer have a monopoly when it comes to HD games and a busy online console community and gamers are becoming tired of the failure’s.

Customer Service

It’s been one of those days for me. Great customer service x3.

1. Cars in the garage – air con is broke. I phoned on Monday and they said bring it in anytime. How does Wednesday morning sound? No problem sir. Cool – I’ll drop it off around 7:00 if thats ok. Sure – someone will be here to take your keys. Excellent.

Roll on to today. By 12 I hadn’t heard from the garage. I phoned their new service department number – unobtainable. Strange – used that number on Monday. Turns out that from any mobile network the number doesn’t work. Tried from my work phone – after 2 mins of no-one picking up I put the phone down. Tried the number another couple of times but no answer. No other phone number on their website but Yell had another number. This got answered and I was transferred through to the service department. After a couple of minutes of no answer I gave up.

Tried 4 or 5 times before eventually getting through to service department at 14:00. Cars getting looked at right now. Ok, they’ll phone back soon. Roll on to 16:30. Still heard nothing and struggling again to get in touch with them. Got hold off them around 16:40…yes sir, we’re looking at the car just now. We’ll be able to give you an update in 20 mins. AGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I complained, moaned but I got the excuse it must have been the wrong car earlier and they apologized. 30 mins later and I get the call – they might be able to fix it tomorrow, it may cost around £300 but it could be less, could be more. Rest assured however, we’ll keep you informed at all times. Yeah – right.

Continue reading “Customer Service”

HMV – Never again

I’d posted about my bargain buy of Pro Evo from HMV. Ha. They must be laughing now. The day after making the order I got the following e-mail:

As I am sure you are aware, this item was mispriced on the HMV web site at £14.99 for a short period of time. Under the notified terms and conditions on the web site, HMV are entitled to withdraw from any contract in the case of obvious errors or inaccuracies regarding the goods appearing on our web site.

However, as a gesture of goodwill, on this occasion only, we are going to honour order placed for the item, but will be restricting this offer to one per customer.

Excellent – they are honouring their mistake although I didn’t realise it was a mistake. Yesterday was release day and there was still no shipping note. I was becoming suspicious and then this e-mail dropped into my inbox:

Due to stock limitations, we are currently unable to fulfil this order. We have contacted the suppliers, and they have informed us that the initial supply of the Xbox version has been scaled back across the UK, and we are unlikely to receive further stock for at least 4 weeks after launch.

Guff – this has been sent to only those that got the £14.99 price. I would rather they had just said it was an error and we weren’t getting the game for the original price. Instead they pretend they will honour it then delay sending it out knowing most will cancel and pick up the game elsewhere like I did yesterday. Swines. Checking their website shows they expect 7 days delivery, not 4 weeks.

Not only have they lost the sale but they have lost my custom. Maybe an over reaction but I will no longer buy anything from HMV. That’s what they get for trying to save £14.99. Well done HMV.

Where did it all go wrong?

Maybe I’ve just been lucky. In general I’ve had no major issues with my broadband providers. BT certainly were poor with support and since joining PlusNet I’ve never had any major issues. Great reliability, consistent speeds, good pricing and importantly a good support service and staff that are willing to talk and share information. Since Jan 2004 it’s been pretty refreshing. I’ve even recommended then and got the referral discounts to prove it. However April this year saw some changes for Plusnet. These have only got worse over the last 6-8 weeks.

Some background – Plusnet operate 3 accounts – Pay As You Go, Plus and Premier. The first two are for average users, not going to download much and hence have traffic shaping applied. This basically means that p2p and Usenet downloading is restricted to fairly low speeds. You knew this when signing up so can’t complain that when sharing or downloading using these two methods that it’s slow. Premier accounts were to be free from shaping. No download limits either.

First issue was back in April when Plusnet cancelled the roll out of it’s fair usage policy. This was the idea that £22 a month gave you a 30Gig download limit but at the fastest speed possible from your exchange. Therefore when Max DSL is launched a potential 8Meg speed for £22 was being offered. £30 got you 80Gig, £40 got you 150Gig. Sounded great and for most users made sense. Some of the big downloaders (greater than 100Gig every month) felt this was robbery. However I felt it was fair to pay for your usage of the service as 0.5% of the users were using 20% of the available network bandwidth.

Plusnet removed this scheme before it was launched instead reverting to £22 for speeds up to 2 Meg, £30 for 4Meg and £40 for 8Meg. The problem was they told no-one about it instead putting the details in a forum posting. At this stage (and to this day) 4 & 8Meg wasn’t available. They said people could keep paying this rate and that would get them first on the list when Max DSL is launched. What a con. People to this day are still paying £40 not realising they could be getting the same service for £22. The reason – nobody from Plusnet has officially told them their account has changed and Plusnet say it is illegal for them to e-mail the users and let them know of the changes. Plusnet also say they can’t move people to the cheaper account as that’s illegal too. Profiteering at it’s most blatent. It’s scary to think how many people are un-aware of this and paying almost double what they should be.

Since then the mis-communication has continued. Around six weeks ago the Plusnet and ADSLGuide forums were awash with premier users saying that p2p speeds had dropped – is there shaping being applied. This was denied for around 10 days before an official (forum) announcement that to protect the service for everyone and not just the nasty few people who download torrents shaping had been applied to the Premier service too. However the impact was alleged to be neglible – around an extra 5 minutes for every hour you download. Fine I thought – no biggie and not much impact. However I couldn’t help feeling slightly peeved that they had changed the terms and conditions of my account again without any prior notice or warning and had done so by using a forum which the majority of users will never visit.

Next came idle timeouts for Pay As You Go and Plus users. If Plusnet detect your connection as being idle for more than 30 minutes they will disconnect you. This helps then reduce network bandwidth and better manage the network. Should have no real impact on end users although some will have to re-boot their modem to get a new connection. WHAT?!?! The whole point of broadband was to provide a fast and always available internet connection, especially if you invest in a router that is likely to be never switched off. While not affecting me I think this is a crazy decision and like the shaping, who know’s if it will apply to Premier accounts one day.

During all this, Plusnet kicked out two users who asked too many questions and also ditched a few ‘bad boys’. These were users who used too much bandwidth over a few months of use. Plusnet repeatedly failed to publish how much is too much saying that there were no caps. After a few weeks a figure of 100Meg was published (in the forums only) and even to this day the forum post is quoted by Plusnet as ‘official guidelines have been published and known by users for months’. That means 6 weeks a go we posted a figure that was lost in amongst 100 other postings that were read by a few thousand users out of our greater than 100,000 userbase.

For me this week has seen a new low. Since Monday any Usenet downloads between 18:00 and early morning are being shaped drastically. A download from a newsgroup started at 17:30 with a speed of 230k/sec. Nice. By 18:10 the speed had dropped to less than 100k/sec. By 19:00 it was hovering around 70k/sec. That’s not a kick in the teeth off a 1/2 Meg account. Plusnet are denying that anything is wrong or has been changed. They say to increase number of connections to the news server – 10 connections took the speed of one user to 110k. At any other time the speed with just 2 connections was 230k/sec – nothing going on? While defending their position Plusnet pointed out some stats that have been published by the people who make their shaping and management hardware/software – Ellacoya. This report highlights the amount of traffic seen in Europe broadband accounts. Nearly 2/3rds of all traffic is p2p file sharing. That’s a lot. Surprisingly Usenet made up 2.3% of the traffic. Yet Plusnet are drastically throttling Usenet access. While I understand Plusnet are a business and have to manage their networks in the most cost effective way possible this seems crazy.

Whether I download 1Gig or 100Gig if it’s during the core usage hours my speed will be throttled. Like the idle disconnects, is this really what a broadband society was to deliver? When I move to a 24Meg ADSL2 service next year, what’s the point if I’m throttled to a 1/2Meg service? Do gooders will point out that all p2p and Usenet is illegal and well done Plusnet for stamping it out. Blizzard deliver weekly patches, sometimes over 50Meg via p2p as do many other game developers. Many download sites now encourage users to use p2p to download demos and trailers as it reduces their bandwidth requirements. Many beta’s are released via p2p and Microsoft are developing their own p2p release mechanism.

The current model really has to change back to the proposed fair usage. Fast speed for all but a capped service unless you want to pay more. So for my £22 I get 2Meg ADSL, can download 30Gig a month but after that it’s throttled to a speed that will either encourage me to download at another time, pay more for an increased download limit or put me off altogether. The more I use – the more I pay. If this isn’t adapted then everyone is punished by shaping whether they download 1Gig or 100Gig

Again Plusnet are spreading gossip in forums that these issues will be addressed ‘in the near future’, possibly this week. They’ve also said that those paying £30 and £40 have increased download limits and that’s always been the case – crap. A forum post two weeks ago confirmed this for the first time even though the pricing structure has been in place since April. My biggest beef is the underhand way in which the terms and conditions are being changed without any pre or post notification. It really is a shocking way for a technology firm to behave especially when they have so many ways of communicating with their user base. If they can’t e-mail users why not flag up the changes when a user logs in to the Plusnet website instead of hiding important updates in various forums.

What grates is that I’ve recommended Plusnet to other people – I wouldn’t at the moment until things settle down. I still rate their support service and from reading elsewhere, Pipex and Demon who are two companies with great reputations are going through troubling times also. I’ll stick with Plusnet for the time being and can only hope the next announcement brings a bit more sense and stability to their offerings – if not it’s time to switch. Maybe all these announcements are Plusnet moving from being a broadband provider to a value broadband provider where those that only use a few gig a month deliver most profit. Time will tell.

Nasty eBay

So Geldof has been ranting about eBay and how folk have been selling their Live8 tickets on the auction site. While I don’t agree with what the sellers are doing, I don’t agree that it’s eBay’s fault. So watching the ITV news I loved Sir Bob’s quote when talking about eBay – I would love hackers to hack into eBay and stop it working. Quality. His other quote was valid though:

The people who are selling these tickets on websites are miserable wretches who are capitalising on people’s misery. I am appealing to their sense of decency to stop this disgusting greed

Even better – ITV’s Mark Austin started off his interview with eBay chief executive in UK with a ‘what are you going to do about this then’ type quote only to have the wind taken completely out of his sails with a ‘we’re taking them down’ statement in a small but clear voice that totally debunked the whole interview. Nice one eBay. Back onto Sir Bob – he also quoted:

What eBay are doing is profiteering on the backs of the impoverished.

This is something that could easily be labelled at others who have gained out of the plight of millions in Africa.

Confusion…pity the consumer

After my PlusNet raves it was bound to fly back in my face. PlusNet have now announced that they aren’t going to implement a Fair Usage Policy after all but instead use contention levels to deliver their service and cut down on those who abuse (i.e. continually download). Instead of a 30Gig + unlimited overnight downloads it will be £21.99 for an unlimited but contended service. Contention will be set at 30:1 and unless you go above 5:1 contention that’s it – no speed cuts, no download limits. Good.

The confusion this has caused is massive – 16 pages of posts and counting and two very confusing posts from PlusNet employee’s –

If you mean will shaping apply, then yes, but as I said the amount and type will vary based on the products which haven’t been announced so I’ll say no more.

and on another thread at almost precisely the same time

I can confirm that traffic shaping isn’t being applied across the product range. It will be applied on Broadband Plus, but not across the board on Premier.

While this has totally changed the PlusNet view of the last 3 months they have also announced to compliment this new Premier products, but they felt it would confuse the user if they revealed the specifics – please wait for the 28th of April for more details. Bloody Hell.

Until now I’ve been happy with PlusNet – great service and support and night and day compared to BT Broadband. Their service is still top notch but their communications team need a shake. All they do is confuse the user and dropping little bits of info through forum posts only confuses users more and leads to, ultimately, users drifting off to other providers. I’m more than happy to be paying £21.99 for 2Meg and the heavy users suffering a poorer service however I will not accept traffic shaping of any kind. Time to check out other providers in case I need to change. Where’s the phone number for UK Online?. Their £29.99 for 8Meg is getting more tempting by the day.

Royal Mail

In the last few years I’ve never really had a problem with the Royal Mail. Sure some things took a while to deliver and it was a pain having to pick up parcels from the depot (the joys of Amazon) but I can live with that. Even one delivery a day didn’t bother me – leaving at 7AM for work meant I never get morning mail – it was always a 5PM event for me.

However the last few days have been….frustrating.

Continue reading “Royal Mail”